After the ebullient Holocaust fantasia Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino takes his whole blood-spattered historical tent show on the road with Django Unchained, this time putting down stakes in antebellum Dixie. Jamie Foxx stars as the titular runaway slave, given his freedom by an unlikely savior: a German-American bounty hunter (Basterds Oscar-winning Christoph Waltz) who trains Django to become his partner. Together, they make their way toward a sprawling Mississippi plantation known as Candyland, where Django’s estranged bride, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), lies in wait under the thumb of a foppish master (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his septuagenarian house slave (the astonishing Samuel L. Jackson). Wagnerian hellfire ensues, though Tarantino’s true reference point is a century of Hollywood cinema’s failure to engage with the ugly realities of the “peculiar institution,” from Gone With the Wind to Spielberg’s Lincoln.
Some high-minded critics and cultural arbiters still can’t bring themselves to take Tarantino seriously as an intellectual, but like all of the best pop art, Django Unchained is both seriously entertaining and seriously thoughtful, rattling the cage of race in America on- and off-screen.
Sat., Dec. 29, 2, 5:30 & 9 p.m., 2012